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NASUWT | ‘Urgent action needed to protect Northern Ireland schools’

The NASUWT – The Teachers’ Union is calling on the Northern Ireland Executive to take urgent action to reduce the potential risk of further disruption to education as a result of the Omicron variant of Covid-19. The Union knows that its members desperately want to be able to provide face-to-face teaching for all children and young people in the next academic term without further problems caused by the pandemic.

Dr Patrick Roach, NASUWT General Secretary, said: “Teachers have been on the frontline throughout the pandemic to support pupils and students and provide them with the best education possible. “However, the rising number of cases of the Omicron variant could cause significant disruption in the next academic term with many teachers being forced to self-isolate. “The Executive must take immediate additional action to ensure that schools can continue to operate safely and provide high quality education.” The NASUWT is urging the Executive to reduce the risk of Covid-19 transmission by:

• Providing government-funded air cleaning units to every school and college that needs these devices

• Supporting household close contacts to self-isolate to reduce the risk of transmission and wider disruption within schools.

• Committing to providing schools with more resources in the event that on-site Covid testing is again required.

• Providing improved financial support to schools and colleges for the costs of substitute staff to cover for Covid-related absence.

• Keeping to a minimum the amount of educational disruption that takes place next term in order to avoid further disruption to examinations, and thereby removing the uncertainty and additional workload for students and teachers.

• Suspending all non-business critical activities in schools by the Education Authority, Department of Education and Education and Training Inspectorate at least in the spring term and in the summer term too if the crisis continues. Schools and Colleges need to be able to focus on supporting their pupils and students and the extra pressure from other activities is an unnecessary distraction from the immediate and urgent task at hand.

Justin McCamphill, NASUWT National Official for Northern Ireland, said:

“Teachers, pupils and students, and parents will be concerned about the potential risk of further disruption to schools caused by the Omicron variant.

“The Northern Ireland Executive must do everything it can to prevent schools from experiencing significant staffing problems next term and further damage to the education of children and young people.”

“The decision made in September to redefine a school close contact so narrowly that almost no child was a close contact has failed. The Executive need to ensure that schools are subject to the same protections as wider society.”

The calls from NASUWT come as the UK Government announce further measures to curb infection rates in schools in England.

Thousands of new air filters and further temporary measures are to be introduced in schools in England to protect face-to-face education and minimise disruption, ahead of the pupils returning to the classroom this week.

UK Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi has announced an additional 7,000 air cleaning units to be provided to early years, schools and colleges to improve ventilation in teaching spaces – further helping to strike the balance between managing transmission risk along with reducing disruption to in-person learning.

Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi said:

“Being in the classroom is undoubtedly the very best place for children and I’m looking forward to welcoming pupils back next week to continue their face-to-face learning, which is so important for their education and wellbeing.

“There is no doubt that the Omicron variant presents challenges but the entire education sector has responded with a Herculean effort, and for that I thank each and every one of you.

“The Prime Minister and I have been clear that education is our number one priority. These measures will bolster our support schools as we do everything in our power to minimise disruption.

Additional support for school leaders will also be in place in England, as Ofsted will not ask inspectors who are also school, college and early years leaders to undertake inspections, so they can focus on their leadership responsibilities at this critical time. This will be a temporary measure from the start of January.


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